Sometimes, being visually impressive matters in a video game because it’s just about the only quality it has in its favor, and Max: Curse of the Brotherhood demonstrates that argument almost perfectly: a run-of-the-mill platformer, competent but largely banal. Basic running and jumping sequences are supplemented by interesting puzzles and an average slew of collectibles meant to hold your attention if only for an hour or two more. What’s most disappointing is that it’s actually the sequel to its superior predecessor, Max & the Magic Marker.
Brotherhood is essentially a puzzle platformer in the same vein as limbo, though with a wider color palette. Max can climb, crawl, duck, and run up ladders and ropes. He can catch himself on ledges and activate switches and traps to get through an area or dodge a foe. He’s also a bit fragile, so large falls and any contact with an enemy or dangerous object results in demise. The infinite supply of lives and check point system keeps such deaths from becoming unfair or too frustrating.
Max’s primary method for traversing and shaping this new world is his marker, which is imbued with the power to create columns of dirt, vines or even jets of water. Powers can only be used at specific locations, and there’s usually a specific way Brotherhood wants you to use them in order to progress.
Performing those solutions, however, is not nearly as simple and error-free as I would prefer. I often had to redraw limbs or water jets several times because I couldn’t get the perfect angle. This is doubly irritating in the dramatic moments when time slows down and you’ve got one chance to draw a vine or branch to save Max’s life. The narrative momentum is too often marred by the shoddy controls.
Another concern is that the puzzles eventually wear thin because most of them become predictable. There’s sporadic creativity in design for the campaign’s full five to seven hours, such as when you have to figure your way around some nasty lightning bugs or some bomb-tossing goblins, but mostly you perform the same few activities with only slight variations. Aside from the aggravating chase scenes, a scavenger hunt for collectibles is your only respite.
Max: Curse of the Brotherhood benefits immensely from attractive art design, and that is supplemented by a variety of puzzles that are initially quite satisfying before finally wearing out their welcome. Longtime fans of Max & the Magic Marker may want to consider taking the plunge if they want to continue their magic marker platforming journey, but otherwise most would probably be better off waiting for a different tale to come along.